Nearly 300 combustible dust explosions have injured or killed over 800 workers since 1980. As yet, there is no official standard regulating combustible dust for all affected industries, though such a standard has been discussed by policy makers for several years. A recent explosion in 2008 at the Imperial Sugar Company spurred widespread media attention and prompted OSHA to re-intensify its Combustible Dust National Emphasis Program from 2007 targeting a range of industries. Currently, policy makers are working to create an effective, enforceable, all-encompassing standard, yet regulating the dangers posed by combustible dust presents many challenges.
An insidious and often undetected hazard, combustible dust poses an immense threat for dozens of industries from chemical manufacturing to food processing. Over 1,000 firms in a number of different industries have been investigated for potential combustible dust hazards, and over 87% of these firms have received multiple citations. Multi-step, industry-specific combustible dust mitigation processes are required to prove effective, and the difficulty of hazard assessment and standard development cannot be underestimated. Adequate cleaning, worker awareness, safety equipment, effective hazard analysis, and ventilation will help to minimize the possibility of combustible dust explosions; however, the use of flame resistant clothing as a secondary mitigation strategy for at-risk groups of employees will provide a last vestige of protection that may result in the difference between minor injury and death in the event that such an explosion does occur. Flame resistant clothing has been proven to reduce significantly worker injury and employer costs in similar industries with similar hazards. Because primary mitigation strategies may potentially be impractical, impracticable, or inadequate, flame resistant clothing is a safe, cost-effective secondary mitigation strategy to protect an employer's most valuable asset: his workers.